Monday, July 25, 2016

I'm an active teacher/professor. Period.

It'a weird how lately I have felt my teaching style attacked. Indirectly, of course, and not by students, of course.
I'm planning my new course "Pedagogy and Second Language Acquisition" and reading through the course content, I came across an article called "a letter to my freshmen students". Even though, the article's intention is good: make freshmen awarene of the difference between high-school and college, fine, it also makes the case for the I-won't-change-my-ways-just-because-students-are-bored type of professor. He actually mentions he is not paid to make sure students learn, or well, that he'd actually be paid even if thry don't learn. I see his point, but I digress. And he goes on saying that because these uninterested students refuse to work whereas they are entertained, flipped learning is a buzzword favoring activity over the boring lecture. Yeah. True. His problem with flipped learning is that he thinks listening skills developed by lecture listening are disregarded.
Well, I have heard it a couple of times now. It is not only in that article. "I'm not here to entertain students", a friend said. "They have to learn to listen to lectures", said another. "Oh, no, I'm not going to have them jump up and dows, this is not kindergarten", said another teacher friend. And my favorite, "they can't have fun, this is an academic program"...All of these comments have been responses to my enthusiastic sharing of x or y flipped learning reading. So, why does it have tp be like that?
I'm not in the classroom to entertain students, that's true. But also, I'm not there to bore them to death and to give them the indirect message that teaching/learning are painful, horrible endeavors. Teaching and learning are the most life-changing activities for me, and for that reason, and perhaps because of my own learning style, I'm all about active learning. Students are not expecting clowns, but either tyrants.
I have also read it everywhere, we can't teach 21st century students with old, boring ways. We just have to accept that. We can't tie them up to the chair and habe them "really listen", nope. Not in my class. They will have plenty of classes with boring teachers who will help.them with their "listening skills". In my class, they'll have to think, to act, to move, to breathe, to create, to apply, to select, to work, to solve, to ressolve...they'll have to learn by doing.
They'll listen to me, sure, in small group work, in writing conferences, in videos, in podcasts... but even though the author of the article for freshmen mocks it, I have to and will be the "guide on the side", not the "sage on the stage". Not because it is a trend, or because I want to be on the hype of flipped learning, but because I believe learning is active, and because me, as a learner, will just jump of a bridge if I had to go through 8 hours of daily lectures ever again.
Learning is active! Period.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Training foreign fellows to teach English in my country

Last week I had a great opportunity to participate in a training session for foreign fellows (FF) in our country. It felt nice to be a part of such a big project and of something that promises to "change students' lives the country over". I have some thoughts about the general idea behind this initiative (that I will share here), but I also learned a lot about the people behind the project in the past few days.

The National Ministry od Education has put the "Foreign Fellowship Program" in place in order to support the teaching and learning of English in the country. It consists of bringing foreigners (not necessarily native speakers) to co-teach with Colombian teachers in targeted urban and rural schools located in different regions of the country. They travel to the different cities and towns and make a life there for four months (which they can extend to a year if they want to).
In general, I think there is a great place for foreigners in our classrooms. After cillege graduation, I participated in a foreign fellowship program myself. I was a FF for 1 year at a University in the States and the whole.experience really changed me. I can imagine how the lives of the FF visiting Colombia will change after this experience.

Last week, I "taught" them about vocabulary teaching, a book use and warm-up activities. While in the classroom, they were really interested in learning about teaching, but also about Colombian kids, our culture, and tips to make a good relationship with their co-teacher.
I tried to share my expertise with them during these days, and one of the things I'm the most proud of sharing was respect. I know that the whole idea of bringing foreigners to practice English is very motivating and interesting for students. However, I can only imagine how intimidated might teachers in the schools feel when they see the tall  blue-eyed, blonde and young fellow that will support them for four months. I can just imagine their hearts breaking at the sight of their students running towards the FF and their great activities and games. So, I thought it was convenient to advice them to walk carefully and respectfully in front of teachers.

They were really concerned about their co-teacher not liking them or not getting along with them. So, I adviced setting off on the right foot by showing them respect and appreciation for the job they've done for the past 25 or more years. I really liked the fellows' receptivity towards this suggestion. It is good to see they value what teachers have tried to do with their students in very poor conditions. 
I can only wish the best of luck to all the fellows. I know most of their lives will change, but I seriously hope the lives of their stusents and co-teachers also change positively. I wish they see the reality of our country and they experience first hand the recently signed peace. I also hope the co-teachers take advantage of these kids and teach them lots! Because even though the fellows can "teach" English to the co-teachers and hopefully to the students, the co-teachers can definitely teach the fellows about life, about struggling and about thriving.

During this past week I had lots of fun, I taught one or two strategies to the fellows, but I also reflected a lot about my role in this project. About how as an English teacher and a teacher trainer I can help my country, and about how good my decision was. I'm experiencing new things,